The Northern League season started last Saturday and continued last night with midweek fixtures and crowds restricted to a maximum of 300 spectators. Six clubs in the First Division were able to attract 300 spectators but only Redcar Athletic in the Second Division were able to attract anywhere near the capacity with 298 fans. I don’t know what effect the government’s new restrictions on people gathering in public places will have on future matches, but 300 spectators for Northern League matches shows the strength in our region for non-league football.
Just how important the pyramid system is to minor football clubs can be gauged by the fact that the finals of the FA Trophy and FA Vase finals are now played at Wembley. These two competitions replaced the FA Amateur Cup in the 1970s and of course that competition was dominated by Northern League clubs throughout the ages. Bishop Auckland won that trophy 10 times, Crook Town 5 times, Stockton 3 tlmes, Middlesbrough twice, and West Hartlepool, South Bank and Willington once each. Even Eston United reached two finals.
The 1954 Final between Bishop Auckland and Crook Town went to two replays attracting crowds of 100,000 at Wembley, another 65,000 at St James Park and 35,000 at Ayresome Park before Crook won 1-0. An aggregate of 200,000 has only been beaten six times in my life time and all in Scottish Cup Finals at Hampden Park which required replays, the largest surprisingly in 1948 when an aggregate of 262,926 spectators watched Rangers beat Morton 1-0 in extra time over two matches. Sadly today Bishop Auckland are bottom of the Northern League First Division with only one point from their first 8 matches, whilst Crook Town are 4th in the Second Division.
The FA Trophy has been won 3 times by Scarborough, twice by York City and once by Darlington as recently as 2011, and has become a stepping stone for several current League clubs notably Wycombe Wanderers who of course Boro will be playing in the Championship this season. Meanwhile the FA Vase has been dominated by Whitley Bay Athletic with 4 wins, three of which were in successive years from 2009 onwards, but has also been won once by both Spennymoor Town and Whitby Town. West Auckland have twice been runners up, whilst Guisborough Town were beaten finalists in the original Wembley Stadium in 1980 as were Stockton Town in the new Wembley Stadium two years ago after beating another of our local clubs Marske United in the Semifinal.
After a couple of Qualifying Rounds the draw has now been made for the First Round Proper of the FA Vase involving a total of 98 matches on the long road to Wembley to be completed before the end of this month. Two of our local clubs have been given home draws, Guisborough Town against Runcorn, whilst the first name out of the hat was Redcar Athletic agains Holker Old Boys from Barrow. So far Guisborough and Redcar have accumulated prize money or £1,000 each with a further £825 on offer should they win. The Vase winners will collect £30,000 and the runners up £15,000 so serious money is at stake the longer either club progress. Of course stronger clubs will enter the later stages, but even the £1,000 accumulated to date is a godsend for the little clubs.
I’ve recently been discussing the strength of the pyramid system in England and how important it is in the development of players. We all know about Jamie Vardy, and locally in recent times Lewis Wing and Jordan Hugill, but I remember the Lingdale lad Bobby Smith who was only 5 years older than me when he played for Redcar Boys Club who went on to play 74 matches for Chelsea and who scored 176 goals in 271 matches for the all conquering Tottenham side that Bill Nicholson managed in the 60’s and were the first team to complete the double of Football League Champions and FA Cup winners in the 20th century in 1961. Bobby Smith also scored 13 times for England in his 15 appearances. I ask myself where would English football be today without the lower reaches of amateur football and now the growth of the pyramid system?
I’m sorry for rambling on, but once I get started I sometimes just don’t know when to finish. However although Boro have meant so much to me for nearly as long as I can remember, so has local football especially the Northern League and also the old North Eastern and Teesside Leagues so I crave your indulgence.
Don't forget that West Auckland won the first two World Cups (Lipton Cup) before the current WC format was started! UTB!
With the reorganisation of the football pyramid system having been put on hold for the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, the FA have now confirmed that three of our region’s clubs will be promoted for the start of the 2021/22 season with the schedule of fixtures likely to be published in early July. So congratulations to Stockton Town who will be promoted to the Second Division of the Northern Premier League (Step 4), Redcar Athletic promoted from the Northern League Division Two to Division One (Step 5), and Redcar Town promoted from the North Riding League to the Northern League Division Two (Step 6).
Naturally I’m especially pleased for the two Redcar clubs. From not having a club representing Redcar in the Northern League since the 19th century when we were in the same League as Middlesbrough FC and Middlesbrough Ironopolis it has taken over 130 long years since a club from Redcar knocked out both Sunderland 3-0 (for the second year running) and Middlesbrough 2-1 to reach the Quarterfinal of the FA Cup where they lost 0-2 to Small Heath Alliance (now Birmingham City) in February 1886. And just like London busses following each other, Redcar now have two clubs in the Northern League within 3 years of each other.
Two other recent pieces of news. Ex-referee Jeff Winter has been appointed as Ambassador for Redcar Athletic FC, and ex-Boro and Scarborough born footballer Jonathan Greening has been appointed manager of Scarborough Athletic.
Thanks for the update Ken amd I will be watching out for the results of the local Teesside based Northern League Clubs.
Jeff Winter is a good friend from my refereeing days and we still keep in touch.
Neil Campbell (Brother of Andy) I have known for many years as he is a friend of my sons and he is now Thornaby Assistant Manager.
Additionally I will be going to watch my eldest grandson play for Billingham Town next season (COVID restrictions allowing) so a lot of interest for me in the Northern League
With the National League constituents not yet decide because of the playoffs which also affect the composition of the North and South Divisions undecided, all the other sets for next season have been completed
With the National League constituents not yet decided because of the playoffs which also affect the composition of the North and South Divisions undecided, all the other Steps for next season have been completed. The composition of these steps can be found on www.thenonleaguefootballpaper.com and for those interested in our local clubs, Step 4 including the Northern Premier League East now has two of our local clubs included - Marske United and Stockton Town.
Step 5 which covers the Northern League Division One includes three of our local clubs - Billingham Town, Guisborough Town, Redcar Athletic and Thornaby, but also four of our neighbours who won the FA Amateur Cup 15 times between them - Bishop Auckland 10 times and Crook Town 5 times, not forgetting West Auckland who won the First World Cup made into a film.
Step 6 which covers the Northern League Division Two includes Billingham Synthonia and Redcar Town, but not forgetting another of our neighbours Willington who stunned the North East by beating Bishop Auckland 4-0 in the 1950 FA Amateur Cup Final at Wembley.
I know this is not Northern League, but Hartlepool will have some fans back for the last match of the season.
Around 1,700 supporters are expected to make their way through the turnstiles for the first time in over a year to watch a Pools side who are in the midst of their best season in the National League.
They've confirmed there place in the play-offs but the last game of the season will determine whether they will play in the quarter finals or the semi finals. A top three finish would ensure a straight passage to the semi's.
Pools welcome 18th placed Weymouth for a 12:30 kick off at the Vic. Up the Boro!
Pools beat Weymouth 4-0 today, but sadly Stockport won at Yeovil 1-0 to deny Pools a Semifinal place. According to reports Stockport were fortunate that Yeovil failed to equalise as Joe Quigley’s late attempt crashed against the bar. So Pools finished 4th and have a home tie next Sunday against Bromley, a team they have failed to beat this season 0–0 at home 0-1 away. If Pools do win it’s another home match against either Notts County or Chesterfield, both sides they’ve beaten twice this season home and away. Jumping the gun a bit now, but if all goes well the Grand Final will be against either Torquay (whom they lost at home to 0-5 but more recently beat 1-0 away) or Stockport (whom they beat 4-0 at home but drew away to). Pools probably favourites with their strong home record, but a tough Grand Final beckons.